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An exhibition dedicated to the Brazilian diplomat Luiz Martins de Souza Dantas,

who saved during his tenure in Paris and Vichy, France /in the pre-war years - until 1942/ the lives of hundreds of Jews, was opened on June 18 at the Mission Gallery at Ministry of Foreign Affairs Cultural Institute. Don Quixote in the Dark was presented by  H. E. Ms. Anna Maria Sampaio Fernandes, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Federative Republic of Brazil to the Republic of Bulgaria and the Director of  the MFACI Mr. Yavor Koynakov. Diplomats, representatives of the Jewish community in Bulgaria and guests attended the opening.

H. E. Ms. Anna Maria Sampaio Fernandes addressed the guests with the words:

It is with pride and pleasure that the Embassy of Brazil in Sofia brings to you, in collaboration with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Cultural Institute, the exhibition "Quixote nas Trevas" (Quixote in the Darkness), which tells the story of Luiz de Souza Dantas, Ambassador of Brazil in Paris during World War II, who saved the lives of over 1,000 people threatened by the Nazi regime - mostly Jews - granting them visas.

This year marks the 65th anniversary of the death of Souza Dantas, who was awarded, posthumously, the title Righteous Among the Nations at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem. 

I would like to express our gratitude to the Cultural Institute for hosting the exhibition, to the Stefan Zweig House in Brazil, which conceived and produced it, and to the Embassy of Brazil in Vienna, where it was first shown.

Allow me to observe that, although living in a time of darkness, Souza Dantas fight was not against an imaginary evil, and his actions did not result from delusion, but from a lucid mind, illuminated by the highest moral values, and a compassionate and courageous heart.

At a time when the vermin of antisemitism continue to raise their head amongst us, when prejudice and hate speech against "the other" still exist, Souza Dantas actions should serve as an inspiration.

The audience viewed with interest the posters that track the life and actions of the Brazilian diplomat. Louise Martins de Sousa Dantas risked his career by issuing visas to Brazil for the Jews; he was arrested by the Gestapo in Paris and deported to Germany almost until the end of the war. He died in 1954 and since then his name has remained a somewhat accidental reference in historic records. His story repeats the rule – diplomats-rescuers do not usually insist on being known about their actions. The issue of granting visas to refugees from Nazi persecution is seen as a confirmation of the values ​​of their societies.

Here's what is said about him.

Alberto Dines, Casa Stefan Zweig president:

The Brazilian ambassador in Vichy - the headquarters of the French collaborationist government during Nazi occupation - knew that without a Brazilian visa all those terrified people would end up in concentration camps. He didn’t wish to be part of the barbarity: he disobeyed strict orders from Itamaraty and stamped around a thousand passports with the mark of salvation. Seventy years after the end of the Second World War, Casa Stefan Zweig pays tribute to the diplomat who, rising above bureaucracy, bowed down to solidarity and humanitarianism. Welcome to this account of an exemplary civil servant, a generous human being, a Brazilian citizen of the world.

Fabio Koifman, curator, historian, coordinator of the Memorial to Exile at CSZ:

The research regarding Ambassador Souza Dantas, published in the book Quixote nas trevas, was the result of three years of investigation and study. It was based on a collection of over 7,500 reproduced documents, thirty hours of recorded interviews, dozens of other interviews, in addition to everything one was able to read in writings about Ambassador Souza Dantas.

This topic came to my attention through an interview with Raphael Zimetbaum. The holder of one of the numerous visas authorized by the Ambassador, Zimetbaum expressed his amazement at the lack of any memoir or record of the diplomat’s humanitarian deeds, since he had been directly responsible for saving the lives of members of his family.

The Ambassador was in the news several times during his lifetime, particularly on the day he returned to Brazil after 14 months imprisonment in Germany. Later, Souza Dantas received some attention upon his death in 1954. Since then his name has become a somewhat accidental reference in historic records.

Although from time to time people have linked the Ambassador’s name to saving those persecuted by Nazism, this topic has remained imprecise and murky. Up to now, no one has brought to our attention so clearly the means by which, how many and to whom Souza Dantas granted the visas attributed to his hand. I took the trouble to locate people and documents, which might prove claims which had thus far been speculation, and tried to verify with supporting evidence Souza Dantas’s true activities. If he did aid refugees, it was necessary that we find and list a reasonable number of names of refugees saved by the Ambassador.

Thus my research located 475 holders of visas issued by Souza Dantas. Having reached this figure I decided I had found enough for what was necessary for this survey, although aware that this number was still a partial figure and could be expanded upon in future investigations.

The majority of the refugees were located following the systematic study of all passenger lists of ships arriving in Brazil from Europe between June 1940 and February 1942. In some cases, inspectors of the Immigration Department noted on these lists that some of the passengers were holders of visas issued by Souza Dantas. In most cases, however, it was necessary to consult the handbooks of the Foreign Registration Service, to confirm one name at a time whether or not each of the foreigners who appeared to us potentially as a holder of a visa issued by the Ambassador, or had been assisted by him at some point.

Luiz Martins de Souza Dantas is an example of the historical forgetfulness of which SO many notable Brazilians are victims. Regardless of his specific actions in the matter of war refugees, Souza Dantas was considered one of the most important and competent diplomats of his time (the first half of the 20th century) not only in Brazil but the world over. This forgetfulness may have to do with the usual process by which public men disappear from the national memory. We might also consider other factors, which may have resulted in our society’s lack of care with its memory. The granting of visas became a problem. Various sectors of government expressed severe criticisms of Souza Dantas because of his insistence in granting refugees visas, expressly going against the orders of his superiors, and in particular those of Getúlio Vargas.

Pressures came to a peak with the Ambassador’s indictment in late 1941 under the Administrative Enquiry set up to report on the granting of irregular visas. The enquiry was concluded a few months before the invasion of the Brazilian Embassy in Vichy in November 1942 and the subsequent internment of the Ambassador in Germany. In a relatively short period, Souza Dantas went from someone under investigation and judgment by the State, to a potential national war hero.

With the end of the war and the discovery of the crimes against Jews and their murder by Nazis and their accomplices, the question of granting visas to refugees during the Nazi persecution was no longer considered an isolated humanitarian gesture but rather an act of moral integrity by the diplomat. Since a very restricted section of Brazilian diplomats was willing to go against the norms, with some proceeding with even more rigor than was required, the historical records regarding this topic remained to this day in memory of those who were saved. Highlighting Souza Dantas’s actions in granting visas to those in imminent danger of their lives would at the same time reveal that the great majority of Brazilian diplomats and members of the government were neglectful or acted to the contrary.

Souza Dantas was in Brazil for the last time between July 1951 and September 1952, not in good health. Following his characteristic of being resistant to pompous or pedantically vain colleagues, he left no personal record or archives. He led his private life with strict discretion. He left no record of any sort relating to his deeds. Moving in the opposite direction, since the publication of Quixote nas trevas I have been striving to make known the humanitarian actions of the Ambassador. The realization of an exhibition such as this one is a highly significant contribution.

Public man, Citizen of the world, bon vivant

Prodigal

"He used to spend all his official budget and all his earnings on lunches and dinners with French celebrities. But he reaped the fruits of this lavishness in the excellent relationships he cemented.... With his vast literary knowledge and his rare intelligence, he was an admirable 'conversationalist', able to delight and liven up any meeting..."

Maurício de Medeiros

Diplomat

"He was a public man in the true meaning of the word. He loved his country."

Assis Chateaubriand

"... he is the soul of Brazil throughout Europe, that fine soul, filled with kindness and goodness... There isn’t a single Brazilian in Paris who doesn’t hold him in the highest esteem."

Brício de Souza, in Diário de Notícias, 1930

"He cultivated friendships and valued cooperation... An ideal intermediary between Brazil and Europe, the keys to which he held - and what a wonderful doorman he was."

Pedro Calmon

"Souza Dantas, an ambassador of gratitude."

Gabrielle d’Annunzio

Helpful

"His greatest quality was the gift to please. No one ever surpassed or ever will surpass him in the art of giving people his boundless dedication and giving the impression he was their only friend."

Gilberto Amado

Elegant

"Ordinary columnists measured the importance of any social meeting - exhibitions, concerts, conferences - by the fact of his presence there."

Antonio Camilo de Oliveira

 "The king of Parisian nights, an indispensable presence at all great social happenings... He wasn’t just a man of supreme elegance; he was a capable diplomat and upheld Brazil’s name firmly and with the dignity of his office."

Pio Correa

"He practiced the art of brief improvised speeches, always with an elegant phrase, a spiritual observation, a point of amiable irony, a gracious reference."

Argeu Guimaraes

Charismatic

" ...this man who knew how to please women, entertain ministers, make the great laugh and the humble smile, this enchanting Souza Dantas also had, like all seducers, a talent for listening..."

Augusto de Castro

Simples

"A man of simple habits, the enemy of all that is pompous and frivolous."

Antonio Camilo de Oliveira

"He used to receive illustrious Brazilians arriving at the railway station in the early hours of the morning, wearing an overcoat, under which were just his pyjamas. He used to say that it was the easiest way of getting back to bed."

Fabio Koifman, in Quixote das Trevas

Bohemian

"... right opposite the Brazilian embassy, I’d end nights having coffee, smoking cigars and talking for hours on end with my good old friend Souza Dantas, known as the Bohemian Ambassador because he didn’t use a bed to sleep in - whenever he was sleepy, he'd put his collar up, pull down the brim of his hat and lie on a Russian leather sofa, close his eyes and sleep like a child, not at all bothered whether or not you had left."

Blaise Cendrars

 

Biography of Luiz Martins de Souza Dantas

1876 - Born on 17/2 in Rio de Janeiro, the grandson of Senador Dantas

1900 - St. Petersburg (second secretary)

1902 - Rome (first secretary from 1908 onwards)

1908 - Buenos Aires

1919 - Rome (Ambassador)

1922-44 - Paris and Vichy (Brazil’s ambassador to France)

1924-26 - Represents Brazil at the League of Nations

1933 - Marries the widow Elise Mayer Stem. But the love of his life was French actress Madeleine Carlier

1937 - Estado Novo dictatorship: Vargas shuts down Congress and governs by decree-laws

1946 - Head of the Brazilian delegation at the lst General Assembly of the United Nations, in London.

1954 - Dies in París

2003 - Is recognized as a Righteous Among Nations by the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem (Yad Vashem)

2005 - An editorial in The New York Times (1O/4) recounts the Brazilian diplomat’s achievements during World War Two

 

"I recall that since there was no Consul, I was immediately obliged to take on consular duties in order to literally save human lives, in the face of the greatest catastrophe that mankind has suffered to this day. With the noble heart of all Brazilians, I did what even the coldest would have done, when driven by the most elementary feelings of Christian pity."

Luiz Martins de Souza Dantas, Brazilian ambassador in Vichy, in a telegram to Oswaldo Aranha dated 1st May 1942

Saved by Souza Dantas, they enjoyed brilliant careers

Zbigniew Ziembinski (Poland, 1908 - Rio de Janeiro, 1978). His production of Vestido de Noiva, by Nelson Rodrigues, marked the birth of modem theatre in the country. He arrived in Rio de Janeiro in 1941 at the age of 33, fleeing the hell of war. "There were people lying on the ground, outside embassies, begging, waiting, subjected to derision, and being tortured," he recalled in his memoirs. "Until suddenly we heard that there was a Don Quixote... the famous ambassador Dantas."

For 23 years impresario Oscar Orntein (Russia, 1911 - Rio de Janeiro, 1990) was the all-powerful PR of the Copacabana Palace Hotel. He brought to its Golden Room stars such as Marlene Dietrich, Edith Piaf and Nat King Cole. Ornstein was born in Russia in 1911. He came to Brazil in 1941. In the 1960’s he produced musicals such as My Fair Lady, with Bibi Ferreira and Paulo Autran. During the last years of his life, he produced concerts such as Frank Sinatra in Maracanã football stadium and the first Rock in Rio festival, in 1985.

The economist and former US ambassador to France Felix Rohatyn (born in Vienna in 1928) was the architect of New York’s recovery following the financial crisis of the 1970’s. His family left Austria in 1935. He was 12 years old in 1940 when Souza Dantas managed to secure visas for the family. “We travelled from France to Morocco, then via Lisbon to Brazil. In June 1942, after staying in Brazil for a year, we finally reached New York”, recalled Rohatyn, who only found out at the age of 76 who had been responsible for his visas.

Without Souza Dantas, the great Brazilian pianist Jean-Louis Steuerman wouldn’t have existed: his father and uncle were saved by visas granted by the ambassador. He started studying piano at the age of four and began his career at 14, with the OSB (Brazilian Symphony Orchestra). In 1967 he won a scholarship to study at the Conservatory in Naples and went to live in Europe. After winning second prize at the International Johann Sebastian Bach Competition in 1972, in Leipzig, he quickly gained recognition throughout Europe as a concert and recital pianist.

The French theatre director and actor Louis Jouvet (1887-1951), who was born in Crozon, Finistère, prolonged a South American tour for four years due to the war. His time in Brazil left its mark on Brazilian theatre. One of the actors in his troupe, Henriette Morineau, didn’t return to France and decided to live in Brazil.

Souza Dantas also saved the Austrian merchant Leo Castelli (1907-1999), who discovered Andy Warhol. The son of a Hungarian, Ernest Krausz, and an Italian heiress, Bianca Castelli, he was born in Trieste and began working in art galleries in Paris. Castelli fled to the USA in 1941 with his wife Ileana and their daughter. In 1957 he opened the Leo Castelli Gallery in New York, the emblematic art gallery of the 1960’s and 1970’s hosting the avant-garde of contemporary art and launching names such as Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein and Frank Stella.

The writer and journalist Ernst Feder (Berlin, 1881 - Berlin 1964) was Stefan Zweig’s closest friend in Brazil and was the last person to see him alive at the house in Petrópolis, on the eve of the suicide. He was a member of the German Democratic Party and forced to flee to Paris in 1933, where he became the centre of leftwing and political journalism in exile. After the Nazi invasion of France, Feder and his wife Erna managed to obtain visas for Brazil thanks to Souza Dantas. Here, he began to write articles in local and interactional newspapers. He promoted meetings between the ex-minister Hugo Simon and Zweig in Petrópolis and Barbacena.

Vera Korène (Ukraine, 1901 - France, 1996) was born Rébecca Véra Korestzky and changed her name to Korène when she went to live in France. She was a Jewish refugee from the Russian Revolution of 1917 and began her artistic career in film and on stage in Paris in the 1930’s. She was forced to leave France and took refuge in Brazil, where she remained until the end of the war. Back in Paris, she rejoined La Comédie Française and started her own theatre company.

Fritz Feigl (Vienna, 1891 - Rio de Janeiro, 1971) concluded his PhD after fighting in the First World War. Expelled by the Nazis, he came to Brazil. He created the procedure known as “spot testing”, a simple and economic technique in which analytical tests are carried out without specialist instrumentation, just with drops on filter paper.  Thanks to this, several new compounds and important chemical reactions have been discovered. The most important award in chemistry is named after him: the Fritz Fogel Prize.

Fritz Feigl and his wife, Regina Feigl, have been rescued thanks to visas issued by Souza Dantas. Regina Feigl is one of the largest owners of corporate real estate in Rio de Janeiro, including the Avenida Central Building, the Avenida Rio Branco, opened in 1961, the first commercial building in the city with metal structures and electronically operated elevators.

Souza Dantas informed Getúlio Vargas and Oswaldo Aranha about deportation and extermination of civil populations

November 14th, 1940

PERSONAL [LETTER] TO MINISTER OSWALDO ARANHA.

By force of this war, which is humanity’s greatest catastrophe, Your Excellency is aware of the infernal situation in Europe and the humanitarian obligations it has created. There is a true exodus to flee hunger, cold and misery in the concentration camps, and other horrors. Since foreigners are not allowed to work here, if they have no means of subsistence they are immediately interned in concentration camps, which could readily appear in a chapter of Dante’s Inferno. I know the generosity of the Brazilian soul, of which Your Excellency is a proverbial example. Although duly authorized by Your Excellency to grant visas in Nansen passports and even simple identity papers, I request authorization to continue to grant free "visas", making no charge, there being no consular services at this chancery, to those who just need the "visa" in order to leave France, and who are committed to not proceeding to Brazil. Would be most grateful for your urgent reply.

M. DE SOUZA DANTAS

May 2nd, 1942

FROM THE EMBASSY IN VICHY

Administrative trial against Ambassador L.Martins de Souza Dantas regarding the concession of passport visas.

FRIDAY - 18h 00 - Answer to telegram Nr. 57 from Your Excellency. I request Secretary Afranio de Mello Franco Filho to take on my defense. I recall that, there being no Consulate here, I was immediately obliged to take on consular duties in order to literally save human lives, in the face of the greatest catastrophe that mankind has suffered to this day. With the noble heart of all Brazilians, I did what even the coldest would have done, when driven by the most elementary feelings of Christian pity. I explained this in a private telegram to Your Excellency, on 14th November 1940, to which Your Excellency replied with your proverbial, generous and intelligent understanding of things. I abstained from giving out a single visa from the time I was forbidden from doing so. Nearly all were granted simply in order to facilitate the exit from France of a few helpless people reduced to suicide, allowing them to arrive there, according to this Ministry, without causing any harm to the country. I request that Secretary Afranio de Mello Franco Filho read my report Nr. 199, of last year.

M. DE SOUZA DANTAS

17 de agosto de 1942

FROM THE EMBASSY IN VICHY

Persecution of Jews in occupied France. Appeal by the Brazilian Mendel Reicher.

MONDAY - 20h 00 - The Gestapo has been proceeding with the true enslavement and extermination of Jews in occupied France. Families are literally separated: husbands, their heads sheared, are driven to work in Silesia; their wives are interned in concentration camps in Poland, never to hear of each other again, all relegated to unknown fates; and the children, even those of tender years, are violently torn from their mothers and confined in special asylums, where the offspring of the accursed race succumb. Exempt from these measures are the Israelites of Spanish, Swiss, Portuguese and North American nationality, but not Brazilians. The Brazilian-born Mendel Reicher, from Sant’Ana do Livramento, holder of passport nr. 10.833, issued by the Brazilian Consulate in Lyon on 24 April, currently in Lisbon, at Avenida Elias Garcia 177, has written to me saying that his wife, Blima Reicher, was deported for racial reasons to Poland, and he has had no word of his son Theodoro, aged 15, or his daughter Tereza, aged 4. This Brazilian family lived in Montceau-les-Mines, in the department of Saône-Loire [sic]. Unable to give him the assistance he desperately requests, I hereby fulfill my duty in referring the case to Your Excellency.

M. DE SOUZA DANTAS

August 21 st, 1942

FROM THE EMBASSY IN VICHY

The handing over of Jewish foreigners by France to Germany.

THURSDAY - 18h 30 - Addendum to my telegram nr. 102. Jewish foreigners in non-occupied France are being handed over to the Germans, above all those who are nationals of countries under Nazi military occupation. Some are herded into locked carriages suitable for the transportation of animals. Men and women are taken in different directions, all separated from their children, who are left helpless. Numerous suicides are taking place among the victims, with the most harrowing scenes, as families are torn apart. The Holy See, by intermediary of the Apostolic Nuncio, has been appealing in vain to this Government, which uses the pretext of submitting to German demands in the interest of French Israelites, to avoid being compelled to extradite them as well, something it will indeed do should the Germans so wish. I know that Messrs. De Monzie, Mayor of Cahors, Jean Mistler and Des... all Council Members, have just resigned from their public offices in protest at the measures which violate the traditional right to asylum and the most elementary principles of humanity, thus dishonouring France.

M. DE SOUZA DANTAS

Diplomatic visa: guarantee for survival

Souza Dantas granted visas to refugees, just ordinary people, against the orders from the Vargas government. Very often, he managed to obtain travel papers through friends at other diplomatic agencies, such as the Belgian diplomat in Vichy, whose government in Brussels had ceased to exist following the German invasion. Without having the authority to do so, he ordered the consuls in Cádiz, Spain, and in Casablanca, Morocco, to revalidate visas, which according to Brazilian authorities had already expired.

In order to facilitate communication at the port of departure, he used to write in French, an unusual language for documents destined for immigration authorities in Brazil. It wasn’t rare for the visa to contain nothing but the words: "Bon pour le Brésil L. M. De Souza Dantas, Ambassadeur du Brésil" or "Bon pour se rendre au Brésil et y séjoumer" or even "Vu, bon pour le Brésil", accompanied by a small round embassy stamp and his signature.

The Vargas government launched an enquiry, accusing him of issuing irregular visas. In a telegram to Itamaraty, Souza Dantas stated that he didn’t issue "a single visa" after the prohibition. This wasn’t exactly true. He disobeyed express orders and saved dozens more people. At a time when many diplomats sold visas and took money or jewelry, Souza Dantas always refused repayment. The husband of refugee Chana Strozemberg went so far as to insist he accept a gift. In answer, he received the suggestion that he make a donation to the International Red Cross. The list of possessions left by the diplomat in his small room in the Grand Hotel de Paris when he died, in 1954, records that the most valuable item was a gold chain with the Order of Rio Branco medal, among very few other objects..

For his courage and efforts in issuing hundreds of visas to people in danger of their lives, the Holocaust Museum - Yad Vashem, in Jerusalem, granted Souza Dantas the title Righteous Among Nations, in 2003.

The materials are provided by the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Brazil in the Republic of Bulgaria sofia.itamaraty.gov.br  and by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Cultural Institute www.culture-mfa.bg